Sunday, June 20, 2010

Crime and Punishment in the Catholic Church

Part II)

THE Catholic community in Quezon City was shocked recently by the much-publicized excommunication, inflicted by the diocesan Bishop on an impostor-priest. The person had been serving in the diocese of Cubao─especially in Christ the King Parish at Green Meadows Subdivision─for a good part of a year, but was recently discovered to have never been ordained as he claimed he was in Europe. The scandal was exacerbated by the fact that this “fake priest” displayed a lot of positive external qualities (always properly dressed, well-spun homilies and pious liturgical celebrations), and of course administered the sacraments (including celebrating the Mass daily and hearing Confession). Several questions have been asked by disturbed faithful: Is it that easy for somebody to simulate being a sacred minister and victimize the faithful? Can the bishop punish so severely? What is excommunication ferendae sententiae? To answer these questions thoroughly, we started our discussion with a backgrounder on the Penal Law of the Church in the previous issue of CBCP Monitor.

We now pick up the thread of that discussion to conclude this article.

Types of Each Kind of Canonical Penalties

As we saw in Part I of this article, there are two kinds of canonical penalties: censures and expiatory penalties.
a. Types of Censures

The Code of Canon Law speaks of the excommunication, the interdict, and the suspension (cc.1331-1333).
1) Excommunication was defined in the CIC 17 defined as a censure by which a person is excluded from the communion of the faithful, with the inseparable effects enumerated in the canons. These inseparable effects were summarized in the old c.1331.
2) Interdict is a censure by which the faithful, without losing communion with the Church, are prohibited some goods (i.e., those expressly enumerated in c.1332). The new Code only recognizes the figure of the personal interdict, which is configured analogously to the old minor excommunication, so called because it did not directly affect the communio but only some of its effects (i.e., those explicitly enumerated).
3) Suspension is a censure exclusive to the clerical state, by which the exercise of the power of Orders, the power of gover¬nance, or of an office—as well as the right to receive specific goods—is prohibited partially or totally.

b. Types of Expiatory Penalties

The prolific enumeration of such penalties in the CIC 17 is now reduced to what is established by c.1336 and the specifica¬tions of cc.1337-1338 as follows:
1) Specific expiatory penalties: restriction of freedom of residence (cc.1336, §1, 1° and 1337), penal transfer to another office (c.1336, §1, 4°) and dismissal from the clerical state (c.1336, §1, 5°; cf. cc.290-291).
2) Generic expiatory penalties: Privation of or specific prohibitions against the exercise of the power of governance, office, tasks, rights, privileges, faculties, graces, titles or decorations (c.1336, §1, 2°-3°).
3) Others to be established by Law.


Excommunication is the archetype of ecclesiastical penalty, for its direct relation to a concept which is fundamen¬tal to the whole ecclesial penal system: the communio. Communio is the vital habitat of the faithful as such. His participation in that communio has an ontological root (baptism), which obviously cannot be lost; but it has a two-fold projection: a) A mystical dimension, which supposes sanctifying grace and charity: the faithful communicates with and in the Church as Mystical Body. b) A juridic dimension, by which the faithful is united to the Church as a visible society, and which is expressed in a series of juridic relations (rights and duties of the faith¬ful as such).

The Juridic Dimension of the communio is what can be affected by the privation which constitutes the canonical penal¬ty: a privation which presupposes a constitutive act by the legitimate authority and which affects the enjoyment of certain rights.

Though the infliction of excommunication does not judge regarding the mystical dimension of communio (i.e., on the sin¬fulness of the act), it is only inflicted in the most serious offenses, which ad extra presupposes the existence of a certain rupture of the mystical communio (mortal sin). The direct effect of excommunication is the loss of communio in its juridic dimension. As a consequence, the effects in the sanctioned faithful are the follow¬ing:

1) For non-declared latae sententiae penalties, this pecu¬liar manner of sanction has implications in the good name of the excommunicated person. Since the fact that gave rise to the excommunication may not be publicly known—in which case the danger of scandal is substantially reduced—, the Law only urges its observance to the extent that such does not imply self-incrimination or auto-denunciation by the offender. Hence, the peculiar regimen of this type of sanction as regards its effects:
a) The excommunicated cannot actively participate in the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, or in any other ceremony of worship.
b) Neither can he celebrate the sacraments or sacra¬mentals, nor receive the sacraments.
c) Neither can he exercise any ecclesiastical office, ministry or function; nor legitimately carry out acts of govern¬ment.

2) For ferendae sententiae or declared latae sententiae penalties, the above effects are aggravated in the following terms:
a) The offender who tries to actively participate in the celebration of the Holy Mass or in any other ceremony of worship should be rejected, or the liturgical ceremony interrupt¬ed, unless a serious reason warrants otherwise.
b) Any act of governance (cf. c.135) by the offender is invalid. In the case of a parish priest, his assistance in a canonical wedding, though not strictly an act of governance, is also invalid (cf. c.1109).
c) The enjoyment of privileges previously acquired is prohibited.
d) The offender cannot validly obtain any honors, office or other function in the Church; nor posses the fruits of such honors, office, function or pension.

Zeroing in on the Green Meadows Affair

1) Is it that easy for somebody to simulate being a sacred minister and victimize the faithful?
Can.903 stipulates: A priest is to be permitted to celebrate [the Holy Mass] even if he is unknown to the rector of the church, provided he presents a letter of recommendation issued by his ordinary or superior within the year, or provided it can be prudently judged that the priest is not prevented from celebrating. In practice, every priest has a little document (like the old LTC Driver’s Lincence) which is called a celebret, which attests that he is of good standing and can therefore be allowed to celebrte the Eucharist.

In the case of the Sacrament of Penance, it is further required that a priest has the faculties to hear confession in a given circumscription. The local ordinary alone is competent to confer upon any presbyters whatsoever the faculty to hear confessions of any of the faithful (c.969, §1), and such faculty to hear confessions is not to be granted to presbyters unless they are found to be qualified by means of an examination or their qualifications are evident from another source (c.970). Furthermore, the Code stipulates that the local ordinary is not to grant the faculty to hear confessions habitually to a presbyter, even one who has a domicile or quasi-domicile in his jurisdiction, without first consulting with his [the presbyter’s] ordinary, if possible (c.971).

In principle, therefore, it should not be easy for anyone to pose as a priest and administer the sacraments─especially to celebrate Mass and to hear confession─if all the cautions stipulated by Canon Law were followed.

2) Can the bishop punish so severely─as happened in the Green Meadows Affair?

Can.1378, §2 is very clear: The following incur an automatic (latae sententiae) penalty of interdict: 1º one who has not been promoted to the priestly order and who attempts to enact the liturgical action of the Eucharistic Sacrifice; 2º a person who attempts to impart sacramental absolution or a person who hears sacramental confession when one cannot validly give sacramental absolution [e.g., because of lack of valid ordination].

Can.1378, §2 therefore clearly establishes an automatic interdict, but not an excommunication, for the offender in the Green Meadow’s affair. However, the same c.1378, in its §3 also establishes: In the case mentioned in §2, other penalties including excommunication can be added in accord with the seriousness of the offense.

Clearly, the local ordinary in this case─in the exercise of his solemn office as pastor of the flock─had judged the offense of special seriousness to warrant the infliction of the heaviest canonical penalty of excommunication, ferendae sententiae (by decree).

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